By Philip Newman
Port Authority Aviation Director William De Cota, responding to promises by a British-based company Mayor Rudolph Giuliani favors to take over New York's airports in 15 years, said Monday his agency is striving to reduce flights at LaGuardia to ease life for its beleaguered neighbors.
And De Cota pledged that the PA would remain on the job rather than leave as some private firms are known to do after an acquisition or merger.
“Perhaps we can be most useful through our longevity,” De Cota said, comparing his public agency to private enterprise management. “We are not planning to go out of business or be morphed into other organizations through acquisitions. We are not planning to burden stockholders and residents of this region with what we have done, then leave you with it.”
De Cota spoke several weeks after the Queens Borough Board heard officials of BAA-USA, the British company that runs several airports in the Britain and the United States, explain what it would do if it is hired to take over the airports when the Port Authority's contract expires in 2015.
“There are too many planes at LaGuardia and the next step is to do something to begin to move the number of planes down and as quickly as possible,” De Cota said.
He recently issued a moratorium on new flights at LaGuardia after several airlines announced as many as 600 new regional jet flights with planes having 70 or fewer seats. The city is awaiting a ruling on a lawsuit in federal court to force a halt in such flights pending an environmental impact study.-
“You are going to see fewer flights unless I get sued,” De Cota said, referring to the possibility of a lawsuit by airlines that contend the PA has no power to limit flights.
He criticized plans by airlines for “16 flights a day from LaGuardia to Cleveland and to Richmond” using smaller jets. “This does not work for us. It is not an efficient use of planes.”
De Cota also denied reports that the PA uses vast amounts of revenue from the Queens airports to subsidize other Port Authority enterprises and said the agency, contrary to what the mayor has insisted, is accountable to “government at all levels.”
De Cota said, “I feel I have to address an issue that has taken on a life of its own. And that is the notion that on a yearly basis, the Port Authority takes $150 million a year in revenue from the New York airports and uses it to subsidize PATH (the Port Authority Trans-Hudson tubes) and the Port Authority Bus Terminal.
“Simply put, it's not so,” De Cota said. “First of all, the revenue generated by Kennedy and LaGuardia is put back into those airports. Historically, we invest more money in these airports than they generate. And, secondly, the Port Authority Bus Terminal and the PATH do not need any New York money from the Port Authority. The New Jersey transportation facilities basically sustain themselves…”
Giuliani has long claimed that the PA is accountable to no one.
“We are accountable,” De Cota said. “… to our own board with an equal number of members from New York and from New Jersey. And we are accountable to the City Council to the Queens Borough president, accountable to government at all levels.”
De Cota said passenger growth at New York's two airports need not mean more takeoffs and landings.
He presented graphs showing that in 1968 when there was a total of 30.1 million passengers at JFK and LaGuardia, there were 752,000 takeoffs and landings. But in 1999 with 55 million passengers, the number of takeoffs and landings had fallen to 703,000.
During a question-and-answer session, Councilman Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis) suggested that Queens should get “fair compensation” for the problems its residents bear on a daily basis. De Cota said it might require renegotiation of some contracts.
Leffler also said he has been getting complaints from northeast Queens residents on increased noise from the record traffic at LaGuardia.
When De Cota's assistant, Charles Meara, mentioned the PA's study to improve the ecology of Flushing Bay, Councilwoman Helen Marshall accused the agency of failure to remove an earthen strip, after carrying out airport expansion at LaGuardia.
“That finger of land is interfering with the flow of the tide in Flushing Bay,” Marshall said.
“Get the Army Corps of Engineers to remove it,” said Borough President Claire Shulman. Congress has passed a bill that will release $1 million in funds for the Army Corps of Engineers to continue its study on a cleanup plan for the bay.
“As for the study, we are up to here in studies,” Shulman said. “I have grown old with studies.”
Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.